When Permanent is not Forever: 4 Ways to Lose Your Permanent Residence (Green Card)

Please note this information does not constitute legal advice. If you have questions, you should schedule a consultation with a qualified immigration attorney.  

Becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR) and obtaining a green card can be a long, difficult and expensive process. After all that time and effort, the last thing you want is to lose or jeopardize your permanent resident status. Following are some but not all of the ways this could happen:

1. Maintaining Primary Residence Outside the U.S.

Some people want the advantages and conveniences of U.S. legal permanent residence but are not ready to permanently leave their residence in their country of origin. For example, some older parents of U.S. citizens feel more comfortable spending the majority of their time in their country of nationality. Many people have the misconception that all they need to do to maintain their permanent residency is to come to the United States every six months or a few times a year. Residence is about an LPR's intent and not just being in the U.S. every so often. If an immigration officer has reason to believe that you have failed to maintain your primary residence in the U.S., they could deny you admission, attempt to revoke your permanent resident status, and/or place you into removal proceedings.

LPRs must demonstrate the intent to remain in the U.S. as a permanent resident. LPRs should primarily reside in the U.S., file U.S. income tax returns, and not declare oneself a non-resident in income tax filings.

2. Extended Time Outside the U.S.

Travel with green card.jpeg

Even if you are maintaining your primary residence in the United States, you can jeopardize your lawful permanent resident status if you spend an extended amount of time outside of the United States. While there is no exact set of time that will lead to abandonment, absences of certain lengths can create presumptions that an LPR has abandoned their permanent resident status. 

While an LPR can return to the United States with their Green Card alone for trips less than a year, an absences of six months or more creates a "rebuttable presumption" that the LPR has abandoned their status. Upon return, an LPR may be questioned by a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer in order to determine if they have abandoned their permanent resident status. The CBP officer might send you to "secondary inspection" for further examination as to your LPR status. Some of the outcomes could be that the CBP officer admits you as a LPR; the CBP officer puts you in "deferred inspection" and asks you to return at a later date, possibly with certain evidence; the CBP officer believes you have abandoned your residence and issues you a Notice to Appear (NTA) to appear in removal proceedings; or the CBP officer asks you to sign Form I-407 admitting that you have abandoned your permanent residence. 

When an LPR remains outside the U.S. for a year or more and attempts to return to the U.S., their Green Card alone will not be sufficient for re-entry. Absences of a year or more create an assumption that an LPR has abandoned their status and the returning LPR will need additional documentation in order to re-enter the United States. In order to return as an LPR after being abroad for a year or more, one will either need a Reentry Permit or a Returning Resident Visa. A Reentry Permit is a travel document that an LPR can apply for prior to departure from the U.S. The permit gives advance permission to an LPR to travel abroad for their stated purpose for up to 2 years without obtaining a Returning Resident Visa. A Returning Resident Visa is a special visa that allows an LPR who has remained outside the U.S. for a year or longer or beyond the validity of their Reentry Permit to return to the U.S. and resume permanent residence. One must apply for such at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and demonstrate that the reason for their extended absence was due to circumstances beyond their control.

If you are considering extended travel outside the U.S., you should consult with a qualified immigration attorney about the possible implications and if any applications need to be filed prior to your departure.

3.    Criminal Activity

Certain criminal convictions can have serious consequences for an LPR. Section 237(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act describes the criminal offenses that can make one deportable. These criminal offenses include but are not limited to crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMT), aggravated felonies, drug crimes, firearms offenses, and crimes of domestic violence. Criminal convictions can lead to an LPR being placed into removal proceedings and possibly deported from the United States. 

immigration crimes

A CIMT has been vaguely defined as a depraved or immoral act, or a violation of the basic duties owed to fellow man. What crimes constitute a CIMT is a complex and ever-changing area of law.  A conviction for a CIMT committed within 5 years after the date of admission for which a sentence of one year or longer may be imposed makes an LPR deportable. Conviction of 2 or more CIMTs any time after admission makes an LPR deportable.

Aggravated felonies are considered the most serious crimes in U.S. immigration law and include crimes such as murder, rape and drug trafficking. A conviction for an aggravated felony at any time after admission makes an LPR deportable.

An LPR charged with any crime should consult with a qualified immigration attorney in order to determine the possible consequences of a criminal conviction.

4.    Failure to Remove Conditions

If you obtain your permanent residence through your spouse of less than two years, you will be granted Conditional Permanent Residence for two years. A conditional permanent resident is required to file a petition to remove conditions prior to the expiration of their conditional permanent residence. This petition can be filed as early as 90 days prior to the expiration of such.

This provision for granting conditional permanent resident status exists to combat marriage fraud. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) uses this petition to make sure that the initial marriage was bona fide and not fraudulent. If one does not file this petition to remove conditions, they risk being placed into removal proceedings, losing their permanent resident status and being ordered removed from the United States.

*Lost/Expired Green Card

lost expired green card

To be clear, a lost or expired Permanent Resident Card ("Green Card”) does not mean that you have you lost your permanent residence in the United States. However, it is important to have a valid, unexpired Green Card as it serves as your employment authorization document and is also needed if you wish to travel outside the United States. You can file to renew your Green Card up to 6 months before it expires. Please note, if you were granted Conditional Permanent Resident status, you cannot simply file a renewal as you need to file a different petition to remove conditions.

When in Doubt, Talk to an Immigration Attorney 

Immigration law is complex and ever-changing. If you have any questions about your permanent residence status, it is important to retain a qualified immigration attorney who can help you understand your situation and avoid some of the pitfalls that could cause you to jeopardize or lose your permanent resident status.